Internet Safety Strategy – an opportunity for games to lead the way
Following the Internet Safety Strategy green paper launched in October, the Government have published their response to the consultation on this ever-topical issue. With the Government consistently reiterating its commitment to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, as well as having the best digital economy in the world, the response outlined in more detail some of the policy changes needed to achieve this goal. While both of these goals are valuable, it should be recognised that there is a balance to be struck here – crucially that the premium on the ability of businesses to scale and flourish must not compromise online safety.
While the report is largely aimed at social media platforms and providers, it is great to see that not only are games specifically addressed in the response, but that Government also acknowledges the work the games industry is already doing to promote online safety. There are many key initiatives and programmes in the games industry that are singled out as exemplary of a responsible, self-regulating sector: the central role of PEGI age ratings in the selling and marketing of games; parental controls voluntarily built into consoles; industry led advice on safe game play such as AskAboutGames; and of course, Ukie’s growing Digital Schoolhouse programme. It is also encouraging to see a case study on RuneScape by Jagex demonstrating best practice for player online safety, for adults and children alike.
However, there is no room for complacency. As an industry we must continuously strive to improve and innovate, using our joint technological and creative strengths to make sure that all our players have safe and enjoyable experiences online.
Something the response says will be considered in more detail for the forthcoming white paper is the extent to which games can and should also be used to support wellbeing and resilience. In the industry, we know we have a very strong story tell here – games can be used to combat loneliness, to challenge social narratives, to discuss and research mental health, to teach digital literacy and resilience as well, of course, as to entertain. That the potential of games to be used in this way is being more widely recognised in Government is a significant step towards improving the perception of our incredible industry and Ukie will continue to prioritise improving the regulatory conditions necessary to promote these projects.
There are also some wide-reaching policy challenges in the green paper which were revisited in the response. Considerations around a Social Media Levy – so that industry make a measurable contribution to tackle online harms - are ongoing. While it would centre Government as the hub for a strategic approach to dealing with this issue, there are discussions still to had around the functionality of disrupting existing funding streams in this area. Equally we have some concerns around the nature of the levy as, unlike the parallel the response draws to the Gambling Levy, “social media” is not a discrete, defined activity. It is also unclear the extent to which games would be included in a levy and we are awaiting clarity from DCMS on this point.
Similarly, while we cautiously welcome a voluntary Social Media Code of Practice as an important and useful common standard, it is equally unclear the extent to which games may be implicated here. In collecting evidence for our response to this consultation, many of the companies we spoke to were already largely aligned with these potential guidelines which include transparent reporting practices, clear and understandable terms and conditions, use of technology to identify potentially harmful online content and more. We will continue to engage in the development of this code. Again, games have a strong and progressive story to tell here about what our platforms offer, and it is invigorating to have the opportunity to lead by example on this issue.
To be most effective, any guidelines or best practice advice should be inclusive of all the various sub-sectors included in this report. Moving towards the publishing of the promised white paper, it is crucial that games are a loud voice at the table. We are keen to continue to engage with DCMS and the Government as fully as possible as we work towards making the UK the safest place to play games.